South/West Xtra: South Fayette seniors eager to make own mark at Heinz

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The football players in the senior class at South Fayette will finish their high school careers with bookend trips to the WPIAL championship game but don't expect experience to play a big part in the return trip to Heinz Field.

"They were freshmen," Lions coach Joe Rossi said. "I don't believe any of them have played [in a championship game], maybe one or two on special teams. They didn't feel a part of the group."

After watching that group pull off a 19-6 win against Aliquippa, coincidentally the same opponent they will be facing in the championshipat 5 p.m. Saturday, this group will try to make its own lasting memories.

"It has been unreal," Rossi said. "It keeps getting better all week."

The one thing that has been unreal for the Lions this year is the coming out party for the defense. After starting the season with eight new starters on that side of the ball, no one could have expected -- not even Rossi -- that the Lions would only allow 60 points so far this season and record five shutouts. For those trying to do the math, it averages out to a very stingy 5.0 points per game.

"We didn't expect this," Rossi said. "We knew our offense would be great and our defense would go as far as those eight new starters would take us. Defense has been our niche and have done some good things."

"A lot of those points have been late in games. They have done a great job. We have some offensive linemen going both ways and the secondary has been tremendous for us."

The key members of the secondary have been cornerbacks Justin Watson, Roman Denson and Hunter Hayes and free safety Connor Beck. Watson leads the crew with 33 tackles, nine pass deflects, one forced fumble and one interception.

Watson and Beck also serve as the top two receivers for junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh.

Other key members of the Lions defense have been the Walker brothers at inside linebacker, Zach and J.J.

"They have been the heart and soul," Rossi said. "They are throwback, old-school type of kids."

On the outside of the Walkers at linebacker are Ryan Schmider and Hayden Orler.

"They do a great job in our blitz game," Rossi said.

So you could see why the Lions are sitting at 12-0 and one win away from a WPIAL Class AA championship.

It also doesn't hurt to have one of the top passers in the league. Brumbaugh is third in the WPIAL in passing with 2,781 yards and 31 touchdowns.

Brumbaugh has passed for 867 yards in his three playoff games combined, and eight touchdowns. Brumbaugh set the all-time WPIAL record for passing yards in a game in the Lions' quarterfinal win against Seton-LaSalle when he erupted for 463 yards.

"He loves challenges and playing full game," Rossi said. "He has playmakers. In our offense it is all about making reads. He understands not just to go deep. He can check it down. He understands getting rid of the ball and his reads and hot reads. He has been starting since his freshman year."

It also doesn't hurt that Brumbaugh has two of the best receivers in the WPIAL at his disposal. Beck is fifth in the league with 54 receptions and Watson ranks second with 1,079 yards.

The Lions run a very sophisticated offense for a high school team, making it crucial for the players to be intelligent.

"Our school district does a tremendous job," Rossi said. "They are very intelligent. It is such a sophisticated college-style offense. You have to be intelligent to play in this offense. We take advantage of their intelligence. The intelligence allows us to do some of the things we do. We can be creative within our system."

Defense combined with a college-style quarterback and offense. The Lions are hoping that is the right ingredients for another WPIAL championship come Saturday.

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